Life Under The Sea A La Walt Disney PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 22 July 2016 19:18

With the opening of The Barn Theatre production of “The Little Mermaid” Tuesday evening, it seems that this is definitely a Disney summer, theatrically speaking.

“Beauty and The Beast” has already come and gone with “Mary Poppins” waiting for good weather.

The Little Mermaid  The Barn Theatre Augusta MIThe tale of Ariel, youngest daughter of King Triton, is based on Hans Christian Anderson’s classic story of the watery miss who dreamed of a life on land, as retold by Disney animators in 1989 and eventually reimagined for the stage. Unlike the Anderson original, it has a typically Disney happy ending, much to the relief of small fans everywhere.

The tuneful depiction has gone through several changes since it opened on Broadway in 2008, most of them aimed at creating an undersea location that is, if not completely believable, at least lovely to look at.

The Barn’s 30-fathoms deep setting uses a projected background of bubbles (also expressed “live” from an overhead bubble machine), side cutouts resembling lacy seaweed and several “merpeople” holding sea green/blue lengths of shimmering material stretched between two stakes.

The Little Mermaid  The Barn Theatre Augusta MIMost impressive is the creation of rolling waves which break gently in the calmer scenes and as ragingly as possible in the storms.

The other problem facing all productions is that of making the merpeople move silkily through their H2O environment. No one really expects them to “swim,” but the use of three mermen to lift and carry Ariel in every entrance/exit is rather disconcerting, especially since all other underwater folk stand upright in their finny garb and shuffle cautiously on and off.

Wearing Ariel’s fish tail and requisite red wig, Melissa Cotton Hunter does her best to add motion in a costume that, until Act 2, keeps her movement restricted to wherever she is placed. Her warm soprano served her well in her familiar solos “Part of Your World” and “If Only” and her “odd-mermaid-out” family situation translated well to human conditions.

Choreographer Jamey Grisham is Prince Eric, the typical stiff-but-smitten Disney hero, who ignores what is silently in front of him in his search for “Her Voice.”

The Little Mermaid  The Barn Theatre Augusta MINo surprise, the audience favorites here are the marine creatures (well, it is Disney after all), good and evil, and the definitely all-evil sea witch Ursula, played with delicious anticipation (and assisted wavering of her octopus-like tentacles) by Penelope Alex, always great to watch — in any wig!

That her malevolent plan will fail is (again, Disney) a given, but watching her spin her aquatic web with the sinuous assistance of her electric eel henchfish Flotsam (Brooke Evans) and Jetsam (Nicholas R. Whittaker) is much fun.

So is watching Ariel’s friends Sebastian (Michael Fisher), a Jamaican crab; Scuttle (Quinn Moran), a dyslexic seagull; and Flounder (Kasady Kwiatkowska), a fishy puppet a la “Avenue Q,” scramble to save her.

Moran leads a trio of “gulls” in a high energy tap,”Positoovity,” designed to pump up Ariel’s drooping self confidence. It is a highlight of Act 2 along with Patrick Hunter as Chef Louis in a frantic chase aimed at putting Sebastian on the dinner table.

The Little Mermaid The Barn Theatre Augusta MIUndoubtedly the most familiar song in Menken’s score is “Under The Sea,” sung by Sebastian and a large group of sea creatures. It is designed to remind Ariel of the wonders of a watery life. Unfortunately, the lyrics here are unintelligible. Time for Disney diction!!

Eric Parker’s King Triton, father of Ariel and her six rainbow-hued sisters and brother of Ursula, is all too human as the conflicted parent whose authority is contested.

Overall, the marine atmosphere is achieved, the ensemble numbers are solid and the costuming, human and not, is satisfyingly colorful. Conductor/keyboardist Matt Shabala controls his four-piece orchestra well and it supports rather than overpowers.

Under the direction of Hans Friedrichs, this “Mermaid” moves along swimmingly (oops!), coming in at a satisfactory (for young audience members) two hours plus intermission.

“Disney’s THE LITTLE MERMAID” plays through July 31 in the theater on M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For show times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121 or visit

Last Updated on Friday, 22 July 2016 19:38

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